Today’s title is taken from Bill Monroe’s song Uncle Pen, written about his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, with whom Bill lived after the death of his parents. They shared a cabin in Bill’s home town of Rosine, Kentucky, which is where we were headed on a sort of pilgrimage on Thursday morning.
Rosine sits just over a hundred miles from Nashville and most of the road is interstate, so we reckoned it would be a fairly straightforward drive. Which it was, apart from the rain.
Once we had driven into this storm, the wipers struggled to deal with the volume of water falling on to the windscreen. We slowed to an appropriate speed but were surprised by the number of vehicles that went whizzing by us in this weather. I guess they’re more used than we are to driving in torrential rain.
We eventually reached Rosine and the weather there was beautiful. There were a few spots I wanted to see here, but we stopped first at the Slick Back diner to get our bearings. It’s located in the building that used to be the town’s General Store.
The waitress there was keen to find out what had brought us to their town and was unsurprised to learn we were visiting Bill Monroe sites. She immediately went off and fetched some leaflets about the museum and the Monroe Home Place, both of which were on our agenda. She also told us where we could find the cemetery where the Monroes are buried.
After the diner, we went along to the Bill Monroe Museum which opened just a year ago. It houses a number of artefacts related to Bill’s life in Rosine and elsewhere. It’s obviously still a work in progress as they develop the exhibits but it was well worth the $5 admission charge.
From the museum, we decided to go and take a look at Uncle Pen’s cabin. The lady in the museum warned that it wasn’t open but we would be able to see the outside of it, at least.
We arrived at the cabin and there was one other visitor hanging around outside. A pleasant lady who asked us a few questions about where we were from and why we were interested in Bill Monroe. Then she asked if we wanted a look inside. It turned out that she wasn’t a visitor but was, in fact, Merlene Austin, the widow of Bill’s nephew. Last Christmas, Ishbel gave me an e-book of Bill’s history by a gentleman called Tom Ewing, a former Blue Grass Boy. Merlene features heavily in the acknowledgements in that book both for her recollections and for the number of photos she was able to provide. She showed us round the cabin and shared some personal reminiscences of the Monroes, which was lovely.
After the cabin, we drove over to the Monroe Home Place, which sits up on Jerusalem Ridge. Once again, we encountered a caretaker there who was a Rosine native and able to provide some direct connection to the Monroe family history.
After the Home Place, we drove back towards town and turned up towards the cemetery. Bill and Uncle Pen are both buried here and we wanted to visit their graves. As we turned in toward the graveyard, we noticed one other car there, which caused me a little confusion on where I should park to avoid blocking them in. The couple from the car were tending a nearby grave and the gentleman came over and pointed out a spot at an uninhabited cabin where we could leave our car. He asked which grave we were visiting and when we told him, he pointed us towards Bill’s and Uncle Pen’s monuments.
Having paid our respects, we walked back towards the car where the same gentleman engaged us in conversation. The grave he and his wife were tending was that of their son, who had died seven months to the day previously. They hadn’t missed a day at the gravesite since. But he also took time to share with us some of his own recollections of Bill Monroe. He was a local preacher and, in his youth, sang in a close harmony group.
I felt for his loss, and appreciated even more his generosity in telling a couple of stories to two foreign strangers.